The mechanism by which the signals are transmitted between receptor and effector domains in multi-domain signaling proteins is poorly understood. We identified a conserved helical segment of around 40 residues in a wide range of signaling proteins, including numerous sensor histidine kinases such as Sln1p, and receptor guanylyl cyclases such as the atrial natriuretic peptide receptor and nitric oxide receptors. We term this helical segment the signaling (S)-helix and present evidence that it forms a novel parallel coiled-coil element, distinct from previously known helical segments in signaling proteins. Analysis of domain architectures allowed us to reconstruct the domain-neighborhood graph for the S-helix, which showed that the S-helix almost always occurs between two signaling domains. Several striking patterns in the domain neighborhood of the S-helix also became evident from the graph. It most often separates diverse N-terminal sensory domains from various C-terminal catalytic signaling domains. It might also occur between two sensory domains such as PAS domains and occasionally between a DNA-binding HTH domain and a sensory domain. We suggest that it functions as a switch that prevents constitutive activation of linked downstream signaling domains. However, upon occurrence of specific conformational changes due to binding of ligand or other sensory inputs in a linked upstream domain it transmits the signal to the downstream domain.
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